Hi, welcome back to our journey discovering Hanoi, hope you have not too much indulged in “Cha Ca La Vong”, let’s continue, ready, set, go!!!
“A trip to the Old Quarter in Hanoi, Vietnam is a must for any first-time visitor to Vietnam’s capital. Set just a few minutes’s walk from Hoan Kiem Lake, the Old Quarter is an intricate warren of streets laid out in a millenium-old plan, selling almost everything under the sun”.
The traditional trades of 36 ancient streets
So, how did the Old Quarter come into being? More than 1,000 years ago, it was during the beginning of the Ly Dynasty (1010 – 1225) when Emperor Ly Thai To selected Thang Long as the country’s capital in 1010, the Ancient Quarter was originated as a centre of supply for the Vietnamese rulers in the Imperial City as well as an inter-regional market place. The street pattern goes back to the 15th century, when trade streets similar to the medieval guild streets in Central Europe emerged for the first time. These trade streets each specialized in a particular craft, or rather in the sale of a certain group of goods. The interesting feature is that every street starts their name with “Hang” which means merchandise or shop, followed by the name of their product and is still a prefix of most of the street names in the Ancient Quarter nowadays.
Each “Hang” is not merely a street, but more like a miniature trading village all in its owns such as Hang Muoi (Salt) street selling salt, Hang Manh (Curtain) the whole street selling bamboo curtains, Hang Bac (silver) selling silver and jewellery, etc. The shophouses in the Old Quarter are long and narrow which are nowadays called “tube houses”.
Current image of the Old Quarter – the new “CBD”
Hanoi is undergoing drastic changes and the Old Quarter with “Hang” streets has been subject to the fast-track development of a Central Business District (CBD). Hotels, restaurants, coffee shops have mushroomed on these streets, the long, narrow tube houses are interrupted by colorful, centuries old Chinese shophouses, French villas and Buddhist pagodas and temples. Still, many of the traditional streets continue to flourish and live up to its name despite the challenges of ongoing urbanization. “Hang Dao”, which means flower or beautiful woman, remains to be the city’s most popular clothing shop for women. Whenever mid-autumn festival comes, “Hang Ma” (selling shiny paper products such as gift wrappings, wedding decorations) still lights up the way as it did centuries ago. As a tradition, parents take their children to buy toys and lanterns on this street.
Shopping in the Old Quarter
Most tourists are eager for exploring the old streets well-known for its specialized industry. “Hang Gai” street has been famous for a long time as one of the most bustling and boisterous streets in the city offering silk clothing ready-made and tailored, lacquer ware and embroidery products. The silk sleeping bag liners and elegant Vietnamese ao dai are sold on this street.
“Hang Quat”, the street that formerly sold silk and feather fans now stuns the visitor by its brilliantly colored funeral and festive flags and religious objects and clothing.
And here are some other Old Quarter Streets may specialize in your desired objects: “Hang Can” street for stationery; “Hang Dau” for shoes; “Hang Buom” for candies and wine; “Hang Hom” for lacquerware and bamboo, etc. No trip to the Old Quarter would be complete without a trip to Dong Xuan market where you can find a variety of clothing, souvenirs and food.
“The streets of the Ancient Quarter may no longer resemble the famous paintings of Bui Xuan Phai, it has been the unique vibrancy, the combination of wholesale, retail trade, handicraft and the pavement as a living and working space in the Ancient Quarter that seems to fascinate people from all over the world as well as those from Vietnam itself”.